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Forum collects views on student housing system

By Niraj S. Desai

At a wide-ranging meeting Tuesday, the Student Housing Working Group collected numerous comments on the state of undergraduate housing.

The group's ultimate goal is to produce practical solutions for specific problems in the housing system, and subsequent meetings will each be limited to about one topic, SHWG chair Stacy A. Segal '90 said. The group's meeting next Friday will focus on computerizing the dormitory assignment system.

Several administrators attended Tuesday's forum, and the SHWG, in a mailing last week, invited members of the faculty and administration to participate in its discussions. Segal said yesterday that the group will not have a regular or fixed membership, though.

The SHWG was formed last month primarily in response to the Freshman Housing Committee's recent report. The student organizers believed that the FHC did not adequately examine alternatives before recommending that all freshmen be preassigned to dormitories and that rush be delayed until the spring term.

Segal began Tuesday night's meeting by telling the audience -- which included about 30 students and former students -- that the meeting's purpose was not to criticize the FHC report, but to produce constructive statements about housing.

Open-ended discussion

Despite an attempt to limit the session to the residence system's ideal goals and some of its problems, the discussion was open-ended, with students offering comments on many different aspects of residential life and proposing a variety of possible changes.

One reason that many undergraduates are upset about the FHC plan is that, by taking away choice in residence selection, the Institute would be telling students what to do and treating them as children, Segal said at the meeting.

Theodore Y. Tso '90 claimed that the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs used to send parents of freshmen a letter telling them "your child is now an adult," capable of making decisions on his or her own. Now, the ODSA's posture seems to be that MIT should act as students' parents.

Associate Dean for Student Affairs James R. Tewhey responded to Tso's comments by saying, "Essentially what you just said, in somewhat different form, was said by me" at a forum for parents of freshmen. The ODSA still believes that students are capable of making decisions, Tewhey said.

Several participants cited as a problem the isolation of freshmen from their peers -- both during Residence/Orientation Week and after. One student suggested that, during R/O Week, freshmen be placed in doubles or triples. Others proposed small group functions and seminars throughout the term.

The FHC report labeled "flushing" -- rejection of freshmen by independent living groups and sororities -- as a major problem in the current housing system.

Several ILG members said ILGs have in recent years made significant efforts to mitigate the negative effects of flushing. A member of Alpha Phi noted that sororities have rush counselors, who are not members, to act as go-betweens for sororities and freshmen. One fraternity resident said ILG rush chairmen have developed a program on how properly to reject a freshman or refer him to another ILG.

The ILG system need not reject anyone, said Joseph L. Vanderway '89, a former rush chairman at pika. The system is large and diverse enough so that -- even if a particular ILG does not have space or is inappropriate -- a freshman should be able to find a place at some other ILG.

But another student questioned whether this is true for women students. ILG options are so limited for women that a student rejected by one ILG may not be able to find another, she said.

Another criticism the FHC had of the present system is that it divides the campus -- with the lifestyles of some dormitories and ILGs being very different from those of other residential groups.

A key goal of the housing system should be fostering a tolerance of diverse lifestyles, Tewhey said. "People ought to be able to live anywhere on this campus [and feel comfortable]."

Tso questioned whether it is possible to legislate tolerance. But Tewhey responded that there is much historical evidence that this is indeed possible. Much of the history of this country in the last 30 years has been about successful legislative attempts to increase tolerant attitudes, he noted.